A reader writes:
I’m quitting my job in a month and moving to a new country to start graduate school. Hooray! I’ve been at this place for a few years and genuinely like it (except for the low pay and terrible benefits, but that’s nonprofit life for you), so I made sure to give my manager a very generous six-month notice since I wanted to give them enough time so they could hire someone new and I could train that person plus another new staff member on our very complicated database. It’s been a great transition out and I feel fortunate I have an employer who won’t push me out early.
However. My job just got posted with half the responsibility I have now, at nearly $8,000 more per year. That’s a HUGE difference — a 25% raise from what I am making currently.
I asked for a raise just 10 months ago when I took over a second person’s full-time job in addition to my own (meaning I’m currently doing the work of two people) and was told there wasn’t budget. I asked for better benefits instead, or even a title change to reflect the much higher-level work I was doing and was given vague reassurances that it was in the works. I asked a few more times and a more senior coworker even went to bat for me, and I got our organization’s 2% cost of living raise two months early. I felt lucky at the time.
I don’t feel like asking for the raise was unfounded, either. I was doing twice the workload I should have been doing and was praised constantly and consistently for my efficiency, work ethic, collaboration skills, and high quality of work. My coworkers have said at least once a day that the department will fall apart when I leave because they rely on me so much (an exaggeration: they’re all great workers and they got this, but it feels nice to hear!).
Now I’m sitting here looking at this new position and feeling absolutely dumbfounded. I’m leaving in a month so I’m guessing not, but is there anything I can do about this? As much as I’d love a retroactive raise, I’m not foolish enough to think that’s an option. Rather, I’m wondering if there’s anything I can say to my employer now to prevent that from happening to someone in the future, or if there’s a way going forward I can make sure it doesn’t happen to me again.
You’re right that you can’t ask for or expect a retroactive raise. Employers give raises because they want to retain people, so when you’re already leaving there’s no incentive for them to do that.
But you absolutely can say something about it.
You could say this to your manager: “I saw that the position was posted for $X. I want to be up-front that I was shocked by that. That’s 25% more than I’m making, even though I’d asked for a raise 10 months ago when I took on Jane’s work in addition to my own. At the time, I was told it wasn’t possible, so I was really surprised to see the new person will be hired on at such an increase, and with less of the workload too. Can I ask what changed?”
The reality is that what changed is probably that they realized you were underpaid and that they’re not going to be able to hire someone as good for what they were paying you. Whereas when you asked for a raise, they already had you working for the lower amount — so they didn’t feel they had to give you more to get you.
And yes, that’s infuriating.
Your manager probably won’t say exactly that. You’re likely to hear something like, “We took a look at the market and realized salaries have risen and we had to offer more to be competitive.” (Which is basically the above, just less bluntly.) Or she might tell you that’s just the top of the range but what they’ll actually pay will depend on how much experience the new hire comes in with.
At that point you can say, “I think there’s a real need for the organization to look at whether it’s paying people appropriately. This is the kind of thing that could make people think the organization isn’t negotiating with them in good faith, and could drive them to leave for another employer. I’m of course on my way out, but I hope it’s something you and others involved in setting pay will look at.”
Will that have any impact? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of employers are willing to pay new hires more than they’re willing to pay people already working there. It’s short-sighted, because it means people have to leave to realize their full earning potential — and eventually people do.
As for how to avoid this going forward: Negotiate as well as you can when you’re first being hired, because that’s usually the easiest time to get a salary offer increased. And from there, talk to colleagues and people in your field to exchange salary info (so you know what’s possible and typical, both at your company and in your field more broadly). Know the market you’re working in. And speak up when you think your work is worth more.
P.S. There’s a suggestion in the comments that you share what happened with coworkers who are still there, and yes. It’s helpful for people to know that there could be more room than they thought to push on salary — and also useful for them to know what happened to you.